That Guy on the Plane

As a traveling consultant, I often found myself developing certain travel patterns when on a long assignment. I think this is typical for any “road warrior”. There was one project that spanned two years where I found myself taking the same return flight from Washington DC every Thursday. This was a layover city for me on my way back to Burlington VT. Because it was a layover, I often found myself in a bar near the departure gate. There was always a pretty good chance the flight was going to be delayed, so why not get comfortable.

I was not the only one with this philosophy. There were a few people that I flew with EVERY Thursday and we all were in one bar or another near the terminal. I was the newcomer to the group but didn’t feel comfortable enough to mix with them. They seemed to have had a tight group and I was content with being left alone after spending a week in meetings and negotiations. People exhaust me!

There was this one guy you couldn’t help but notice. He was tall, in his mid-to late 50’s. He was very gregarious. Very load. He was always drunk. Every Thursday. Every week. He always had a crowed around him and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. And he was always very drunk.

We would then make our way onto the plane. We almost always sat in First Class. When you fly 40+ weeks out of the year, the airline took care of you. The party didn’t stop for this guy. As soon as we got on the plane, drinks were passed out. He talked to everyone around him. He was just a ball of fire….every week. Once the plane was in the air, more drinks were passed out. Because we were such frequent fliers, we more often than not, got two “little bottles” of whiskey for each drink. We often got two drinks while in the air. To keep count: one drink before taking off, 2X2 drinks while in the air. This was after hanging out in a bar before we got on the plane.

After being in the air for about 30-40 mins, he would nod off. I started to wonder how this guy did it. Every week he was VERY drunk. He was in his late 50s. How long had he been doing this for? How long could he keep it up? How often did he drink outside of Thursday night flights to Burlington? He was obviously very successful. How did he do it? How did he hold it together?

I thought to myself several times during these flights “I hope I never get that bad”. There was one night where one of his old-time flight mates had to walk him to the bathroom when we landed in Burlington because he was completely incoherent. “Please don’t let me get that bad” I thought.

There was one Thursday night on our flight back to Burlington where there was a new women in First Class that sat in the back row. The flight attendant corrected her and advised her to move up one row. This turned out to be the seat next to “the guy”. He put on a huge smile and said “Please… sit next me. We will have a pleasant and quiet flight”. I laughed a little with a grin. He noticed me and broadened his smile.. “you know me!”. I nodded and he winked. He spent the next 30 minutes regaling her with great stories of his adventures. Until he dozed off.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He seemed like a great guy. Why did he drink so much every week. Why was he so “over the top”? I again found myself hoping “I hope I never turn out like him”.

We landed in Burlington, he woke up, and we all made our way out to the terminal. As I made my way out to the pick-up gate, I realized I had 30 minutes before my ride would pick me up. I decided I would have one last drink before I left the airport and went to the airport bar. I ordered a beer from the young bartender, she was in her 20s.

“Sir. By the powers invested in me by the great state of Vermont, I declare that you are too intoxicated to receive any further alcoholic beverages” the bartender replied. I think that’s what she said, I was pretty drunk at the time.

“May I have a glass of water please?” I asked.

Without another word, I received my water. I drank it in silence. I started to wonder how I have acted on previous flights.

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